The New Mexico Lobos’ sophomore center Alex Kirk blocked a shot by Sean Kilpatrick of the Cincinnati Bearcats with two seconds left in the game to preserve UNM’s 55-54 road win over the No. 8 Bearcats at Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio Thursday night a the Lobos knocked Cincy from the ranks of the undefeated.
"This team fights. We take a lot of pride in it," said UNM head coach Steve Alford on his post game radio show.
Kirk scored nine of his 15 points in the second half and pulled in seven rebounds and had three blocks – none of which were as big as his final one to seal the win.
With his team trailing and New Mexico having whittled the game clock down to four seconds with a pair of well-timed fouls, Cincinnati’s Kilpatrick threw an in-bounds pass from the baseline with 4.5 seconds left, got the ball back and shot from the right side, but Kirk was waiting to knock it away.
The Bearcats got off a shot after the block and it improbably went in, but sank into the cylinder seconds after the final buzzer.
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Kilpatrick had 15 points, but was only shot 5 of 22 from the field as the Bearcats shot 20 of 64 overall (31.3%). Cincy, which fell to 12-1, finished 11 of 26 (42.3%) from three-point range but shot only 9 of 38 (23.6%) inside the arc.
The Bearcats forced 14 turnovers from UNM, but the Lobos only turned the ball over twice in the final four minutes as the two teams traded leads before Tony Snell hit a jumper with 2:28 left to give UNM its final lead – neither team managed to score the rest of the way.
UNM again shot poorly from the field – 21 of 54 (38.9%) from the field and 7 of 19 (36.8%) – but managed to use its tough defense to keep the Bearcats from keeping control of the game.
"Tonight (against Cincinnati) we didn’t make a lot of shots," said Alford, , whose teams are now 6-1 against their last seven ranked opponents. "These guys have a lot of fight in them. They compete like crazy. I just can’t say enough about them and about how pleased I am with their effort because they just fight every night."
Despite forcing 14 turnovers, Cincinnati only scored nine points off those turnovers and only scored seven points off 14 offensive rebounds.
New Mexico (13-1) outscored the Bearcats 22-14 in the paint. Cincy out-rebounded the Lobos 40-35, but UNM held the advantage on defensive rebounds 35-34.
The two teams went nearly three minutes without a field goal to start the game before Cincinnati burst out to a 6-0 lead on a pair of three pointers. UNM fought back to tie the game at 9-9 on a Cameron Bairstow lay up but Kilpatrick answered with a trey to give the Bearcats a 12-9 lead with 12:34 left in the half. Cincy pushed the lead to 19-14 with just over eight minutes in the first half by UNM reeled them back in.
The Bearcats JaQuon Parker hit a trey with 30 seconds left and UNM trailed 26-22 at halftime.
UNM began going inside more to start the second half and tied the game 31-31 on a dunk and made free throw by Kirk with 16:01 left in the game. The teams traded baskets and leads until Kirk hit a three pointer from the top of the key to give UNM a 40-37 lead with 12:10 left in the game.
UNM pushed the lead to 43-37 on a Kendall Williams trey minutes later but Cincy responded with two three pointers to tie the game again at 43-43. But the Lobos went up 47-43 after a Williams dunk and a jumper from Demetrius Walker at the 9:35 mark.
The two teams battled back and forth as down the stretch and UC’s Cashmere Wright game the Bearcats their final lead with a three pointer with 2:47 left in the game. But Snell responded with a jumper at the other end to give UNM it’s final margin of victory.
"The guys didn’t have a lot of prep for this game because of travel but we told our guys, ‘We blew the opportunity at home to remain undefeated (but) we’re still undefeated on the road,’" said Alford. "We’re a good road team, we understand winning on the road and to win this one is big time."
Williams scored 16 points on 5 of 11 shooting (4 of 7 on three pointers) to lead New Mexico while Snell added 10 points on 4 of 15 shooting with three rebounds.
Parker added 14 points and six rebounds on 5 of 14 shooting with limited playing time due to foul trouble and Wright added 12 points.